Welsh rivals have journeyed far to reach the promised land but the functional Bluebirds need an overhaul to stay there
With tongue ever so slightly in cheek, it is already being dubbed by some as the Welsh clásico. Cardiff City's long overdue promotion to the Premier League means that Welsh football, for the first time ever, will be home to two top-flight clubs next season, with Malky Mackay's side going toe-to-toe with Swansea City on the biggest stage.
How we would have laughed at that prospect a little while ago. Cardiff and Swansea have been through everything from winding up orders to administration, and for a snapshot of just how bleak their plight was in the not too distant past, the 1997-98 fourth-tier league table takes some beating. Five places off the bottom, in 88th position on the league ladder, were Swansea, just behind Darlington, Rochdale and Hartlepool. As for Cardiff, they were one rung lower, in 89th place. To give a guide as to the level of interest at that time, when the two clubs met at Ninian Park in 1997 the attendance was 6,459.
How times have changed. Decrepit old grounds have been replaced with all-seater stadiums that will be sold out almost without fail next season.
Swansea, who won the League Cup in February and remain on course for a top-10 finish in the Premier League, have already outgrown their new home and this week submitted plans to increase the capacity from 22,500 to 33,000, to cope with the increased demand.
For Cardiff, however, next season is all about survival rather than expansion. It promises to be quite a challenge, even allowing for the fact that they have been the team to catch in the Championship ever since the end of November and have a wealthy benefactor behind them. Vincent Tan, the club's Malaysian owner, has vowed to spend £25m in the Premier League, which is significantly more than Reading invested after winning the Championship last season but considerably less than Southampton, who secured the other automatic promotion berth, splurged in the summer.
For a blueprint for success in the Premier League, Tan believes Cardiff need to look no further than Swansea. "I think it is a model that we should emulate," he said in February, when outlining his vision for Cardiff in the top flight. "We should study more carefully and see how we can follow such a model. We can invest a bit more money than Swansea. They have managed to strategise well, so we would like to strategise well too.
"But finally we would like to have some lucky breaks. We would like to buy, for example, someone along the Michu model. We would like to pay £2m and [the player] do very well for us, or pay £5m and do very well for us. But not pay £20m or £30m. We're not going to buy a Fernando Torres for £50m who doesn't score a goal for you. So we have got to be moderate, reasonable and hope for a good break."
Cardiff, in truth, have little in common with Swansea on and off the field.
In terms of the finances, Cardiff made a £13.6m loss in 2012 and have debts of £83m. Swansea, in contrast, reported a £15.9m profit for the six months up until the end of November 2012 and operate in the black. At Swansea there is supporter representation on the board. At Cardiff the fans have no say in the running of the club and were powerless to stop Tan from changing the kit colour from blue to red last summer.
When it comes to how things shape up on the pitch, Cardiff have more Premier League experience in their squad than Swansea did when they won promotion in 2011, although age is arguably against many of those players.
Tommy Smith will be 33 next month, Craig Bellamy turns 34 in July and Heidar Helguson, the club's top scorer with nine league goals, will be 36 in August. Fraizer Campbell, 25, has played in the top flight for three different clubs but he has scored only seven goals in 70 games at that level. Andrew Taylor, the former Middlesbrough left-back, is just about the only Cardiff player who is in his prime and has been a Premier League regular in the past.
Although Swansea lacked proven Premier League quality in their first season in the top flight, they had a way of playing – monopolising possession combined with a high intensity pressing game – that caused opponents plenty of problems and proved to be a major asset under the management of Brendan Rodgers, who also used the loan market well in that campaign. Cardiff, on the other hand, are much more functional; their success largely built on being solid defensively with a strong work ethic.
There is, of course, always the potential for unheralded players to blossom at the higher level, in the same way that Neil Taylor, Ashley Williams, Leon Britton and Joe Allen did for Swansea last season. Within the Cardiff ranks, David Marshall, whom Mackay rates as the best goalkeeper in the Championship, Mark Hudson, the captain, and the South Korea international Kim Bo-kyung, who has showed some nice touches in midfield, feel like the most likely candidates to catch the eye. We will also discover whether Peter Whittingham, who has been one of the most consistent performers in the Championship for several years, can make the step up.
Elsewhere, though, it feels as if Mackay has plenty of work to do to strengthen Cardiff's squad, despite what Tan said a couple of months ago, when he was asked whether the core of the team was strong enough to survive in the Premier League. "I think it should be all right," he said. "We also want to give the existing team the opportunity to play in the Premier League. But of course we need improvement in one or two areas. Of course this is best left to Malky to decide."
Whatever happens, it promises be a groundbreaking season that will put Welsh football on the map, with two local derbies beamed around the world to a global audience that would have been unimaginable when 5,621 turned up to see Swansea take on Cardiff in the fourth tier at the Vetch Field 15 years ago.